Project Manager versus Administrator

Why do so many Project Managers interpret their job as Project Administrators.  I admit that parts of the job are related to tracking progress and keeping track of things but the job is much bigger than simply being a score keeper.  The biggest part of the job is managing the team to accomplish the project.  Often issues arise that is outside the project managers expertise but that does not mean he should not dig into the problem and help find a solution.  The team can certainly help.  One thing that a good project manager needs is as a skill is a good bullshit detector.  You need to know when are being told things just to keep you quiet.

I recall a story told me by a Project Manager of a large aerospace company.  One of his software engineers was working on something for him and it was late.  He asked when would it be ready, the engineer said in one week.  Then next week. he was again told one week more.  This went on for another week.  He then asked when will you meet the specification.  The engineer said "Oh I had that three week ago, I wanted to make it better."    Project managers must dig below the surface and understand what is being worked on.  You do not not need to know every detail but know what the project is trying to achieve. 

As things are not going along, you need to understand what is going on at a high level and when something is not going as planned, dig into the issue.  I recall the parable of the lost sheep.  The shepherd was tending a hundred sheep and one went missing.  The shepherd left the ninety-nine and went looking for the lost sheep till he found it.  For some time I thought that was pretty stupid because the other ninety nine would leave.  However sheep usually stay where they are unless frightened.  On a project if one person is having trouble you can safely leave the rest of the project and help that person to get back on track.  Give the highest priority issue your attention rather that all the administrivia.

I expect that certified Project Managers learn more about administrivia in their training than they learn about managing, motivating and problem solving.  Good work breakdown structures and project tracking are important but they do not solve problems that arise.  Problem solving is the key skill that a good project manager needs.  That includes motivating, listening, communicating, coaching, and sometimes just helping some team members with their work.  I think a good project manager sometimes should roll up her sleeves and sit down with one of the team and solve the problem.

I would be interested in peoples experiences or reactions to my tirade.

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